Omar Waraich: The only people who want Musharraf back are his enemies

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The Independent Online

The contrast could scarcely have been more striking.

When Pervez Musharraf entered politics in 1999, he was an army chief, seizing power in a bloodless coup. Now Pakistan's former military ruler is reduced to making a feeble second attempt thousands of miles away in London, to barely a hall full of people.

Deploying his characteristically brusque tones, Mr Musharraf said there was a need to "bring all patriotic people under one flag, that flag should be the All Pakistan Muslim League." The reference was the name of his new party, one he had to assemble after his supporters in Pakistan deserted him. Mr Musharraf said that he would return to Pakistan, with the same uneasy insistence with which he used to claim he would never leave.

Mr Musharraf boasted he remains popular in Pakistan and stood a chance at returning to the presidency. "Illusion," observed Oscar Wilde, "is the first of all pleasures." That at least is how many Pakistanis regarded yesterday's launch. After nearly nine years in power, he has left behind bitter memories of military rule, once-loyal generals and politicians keen to distance themselves from his legacy, and charges ranging from political assassination to stoking extremism – even high treason for violating the constitution.

Few think he will return. "Musharraf will remain away from Pakistan for many years," said a senior Western diplomat. His former interior minister, Aftab Sherpao, agreed: "He has no political base here. He won't be able to move around because of the security risk. Even the programme he's offering is what he said he'd do in power. He failed then, he has no chance now."

Excitable television news channels resisted treating the launch as a serious event. Some ran montages recalling his taste for the good life. Others interviewed opponents who vented a litany of criticisms.

"There's one thing to be army chief in Pakistan and another to enter politics as an ex-general," said former cricket legend Imran Khan. "Gen Musharraf will notice that difference if he does return."

That's not to say Pakistanis are not looking forward to Mr Musharraf, if for the reasons that will keep him away. The Baluch leaders want him tried for the 2006 assassination of Akbar Bugti. In the southern province of Sindh, supporters of the slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto have questions about his failure to provide adequate security, as outlined in the UN's report.

In the Punjab, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif would like him tried for "high treason" for the 1999 coup and imposing a state of emergency in November 2007. And in the northwest, he is blamed for allowing militancy to mushroom though deals with the Taliban.

"He's united the country," said Talat Hussain, a senior journalist. "But it's united against him."

One person who may smile on the prospect of Mr Musharraf returning is President Asif Ali Zardari, as it would divert hostile attention from his struggling government.